Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The crux of the Agriculture Problem is a case of failed leadership

I WOULD like to comment on certain concerns raised by a certain Gigs whose article entitled "Minister (referring to Hon. Andrew Kumbakor, MP) did little for housing in PNG") that appeared in the Post Courier on 3rd February 2010.

There are no parallels between Housing and Agriculture for Gigs to say Minister Kumbakor who only recently was appointed to the Agriculture portfolio will not deliver in the agriculture sector.

It is my perceived view that the crux of the Agriculture problem is a case of failed leadership, and I perceive that farmers in PNG may have in Hon Kumbakor, hope, for what he is, and I will clarify this point at the end of my submission.

But first, the impact of the LNG project on the PNG economy demands determined leadership from the farming sector, led by a visionary and strong Minister to mobilize government support and funding for agriculture. Even though it has been estimated that by 2013 the LNG project would have invested up to US$14 billion and this would have effectively more than doubled the PNG gross domestic product, the down side is the reality that its development, like many other large mines and gas projects world wide, is unlikely will lead to poverty reduction and raised social and economic status of Papua New Guineans.

On the other hand, the reality in PNG is that agricultural development has led to significant improvements in the livelihoods of many thousands of indigenous people every where, where there has been a major agricultural project. This contrasts sharply with the mining sector - where these enclave industries have brought in significant revenue to the state but have seldom translated these benefits to directly impact on the livelihood of ordinary citizens.

The modern PNG economy grew on the back of plantation agriculture in the 1950's, 60s and 70's. Social indicators of people living within the vicinity of 100 -150 km radius from Kimbe and Hoskins (WNBP); Popondetta (Oro Province), Mt Hagen (WHP), Goroka (EHP); the Gazelle (ENBP), Lae and Madang, which hosted major agricultural projects are generally better of than provinces that hosted major mines.

During the last 20 years since the operation of Ok Tedi, Misima, Porgera and BCL mines, the GDP contributions from the agricultural sector has declined, even though the population that grew during that period was almost entirely absorbed by this sector. The average per capita output of citizens declined over this period.

A space of 20 years lapsed with no major investments in the agricultural sector.  Against this sad reality, the greatest fear is that the Government is not likely to do any better with all the revenue received from the LNG project unless a corrective policy action is taken to mitigate against this trend. And this must start with appointing the right Minister for the Agriculture Ministry.

The Exxon Mobil exploitation of the natural gas resources in the SHP looks set to fundamentally change the outlook of the PNG economy and its people. Many commentators including IPA boss Ivan Pomaleu expressed fear of Dutch disease whilst Treasury Secretary Simon Tosali feared delivery constraints - inefficient and ineffective public service machinery and weak infrastructures and communications - hampering flow of benefits to rural masses.

The Government admits that the key challenge facing PNG is absorbing the growth in the economy brought about by the LNG project. I submit to you that there is no sector apart from agriculture and the agri-business sector that have the greatest potential to absorb this growth and simultaneously bring about massive improvements to the great majority of rural people.

Investments in the agriculture sector will bring to bear broad based and equitable national growth, involving and participated by a great majority of our people.

In order to bring about this growth led by the agriculture sector, three critical policy pillars must be put in place. First it is absolutely critical that we have a good Minister, who has the passion, the commitment and the ability to influence the whole of the Government system and the private sector - to win support for sectoral initiatives and secure development resources for the sector.  Second, the State must identify, fund and develop at least two to three major agricultural development projects every year, scattered equally around the country over the tenure of the NADP (10 yrs). And thirdly, bearing in mid that the people own the basic production resources - land and labor; the greatest challenge remains in finding a way to involving a greater proportion of our people in productive economic activities.

This was planned to be achieved under the NADP.  Sadly as we all know the NADP had failed leaving many thousands of farmers disillusioned and disappointed all over this country.  We do not want the opportunities presented by the LNG project to by pass farmers and their sector again.

I conclude that ours is a leadership problem in the agriculture sector and it is my firm belief that Hon Kumbakor is the man for the sector. My faith in the man rests on the fact that Andrew and I graduated with bachelor of Agriculture degree in 1983. Whilst I pursed a career in the public service and after 20 years became Secretary for DAL, Andrew worked in the plantation sector and after many years in the oil palm and coffee industries he was promoted to manage one the biggest coffee plantations in WHP, prior to him becoming a MP.  Hon Kumbakor is probably the only Minister in Sir Michael's cabinet today that has got any affinity with the agriculture sector and the plight of the farmer.  Give him a chance.

Matthew Wela B. Kanua
Former Secretary for DAL (20002 - 2006)

No comments: